I am new here, I hope this is the right place to ask the following.

I am practicing Étude 2 by Philip Glass and there are some parts of the score that look impossible for the fingers. But I see sometimes a different notation.

For example here you see in red that he used the caret and “smaller” notes but if you try this in the piano is impossible to play all at the same time. If I listen to the piece I am almost sure I only hear the higher notes in the right hand.

What is this notation telling me exactly?

Etude 2

  • Don't know - but the small notes are octave copies of the l.h. notes.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 13:07
  • By any chance, is this Glass Etude 2 a transcription of a piece that's for more than one instrument and/or player?
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 14:04
  • @dekkadeci Thanks for the comment, no, this is part of the original book of Piano Etudes. Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 14:22
  • I am starting to think that the small notes are “optional”. See 3:13 here youtu.be/VpoeveMSG18 Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 14:23

1 Answer 1


The notes set in small type are alternatives to the octaves given in full-size type. They're there for a pianist who finds the octaves unduly difficult.

For example, the pianist's hands are visible at that point in this video.

Here is another (IMO better) example without the slowing:

  • Thanks, Is this common notation for “alternative” notes to play ? Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 15:23
  • @EduardoRuizDuarte This is one of several common notations. Often such notes are also explicitly marked as "optional" or "ossia", sometimes there will be performance instructions stating as much, and sometimes they are notated on a separate (third) staff.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 15:30

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